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So far, A & O film critic Sylvain Richard has seen the following films. Here are his ratings and comments, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.


Sylvain RichardAmong Sylvain Richard's best ever films = (Babij Jar; Man Who Wipes Mirrors; Napola; Les Choristes; The Headsman; My Nikifor; Hell in Tangier; Camaron; Who Are You; King of the World).


3.3 -- ADEM (OXYGEN), Hans Van Nuffel
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Tom and his brother Lucas both have cystic fibrosis. Lucas desperately needs and wants a lung transplant, but when the fateful moment arrives, the operation fails; Tom doesn't want it, despite the optimistic pep talks, friendship and cheery attitude his hospital neighbour Xavier tries to exert. Often they play a game together, which always ends in the refrain "You win." In the end, all who want to win don’t, and Tom, who doesn't care about winning, does. He gets the lung transplant only by default: Xavier develops a fever and doctors cannot do the lung transplant ordered for him. So Tom takes the lung. Tom is lovely but ungrateful. In the movie, we meet his drug dealing friends who have no respect for Xavier and even trash his car. Yet, Tom doesn't seem to care nor does he particularly like Xavier who really wishes to change Tom's teenage disenfranchised way of looking at life. What makes this film a winner is the natural mood of the movie, and the way each victim handles his fate. A compelling movie that pulls you in with truths that are intense, no matter their painful outcome. 

3.9 -- ADEM (OXYGEN), Hans Van Nuffel
“Having cystic fibrosis is like drowning from the inside out” (recent ad). This emotionally stirring and touching film follows a young man, Tom, who suffers from this disease that slowly destroys the lungs. His brother, Lucas, also has it and is already permanently hospitalized, awaiting a compatible lung for translplant. In coping with this disease and his short life expectancy, Tom approaches life with ‘a Devil may care’ attitude. The friends he hangs out with are hoodlums; he drinks and he smokes. His best friend Jimmy beats up the orderlies. The film opens with Tom being admitted for tests. He meets Xavier who approaches cystic fibrosis optimistically even when his girlfriend Anneleen dumps him. Xavier behaves as an athlete. Anneleen, though she too has the disease, wants to get pregnant but Xavier says no. One day while roaming the hospital halls, he spots Eline, who has been placed in strict quarantine due to an infection. They can only talk to each other on the phone (she jokes that five jealous Italians are in her room). Despite this they develop a romantic relationship. When Lucas receives a compatible lung he dies during surgery. Tom, who wasn't there for his last moments, becomes inconsolable. He breaks off with Xavier and Eline, seeking refuge with his hoodlum buddies. Years later, Tom and Xavier’s paths meet again, both still on the wait list for a compatible lung. The film’s delivers a hard-hitting, poignant message: use the time that is given wisely as that which is wasted is lost forever. Even in the shortest time, much can be achieved.

2.6 -- MISS FLY, Bernard Halut
Nina, an early adolescent, has a passion for floes and blogs about them on the Internet. For her birthday, Cedric (her father) gives her a cell phone with a built-in video camera. She starts to capture fragments of her life, often secretly. One day she is in the car with her mother, Sophie. Of course she is filming her mother as she is driving. This results in a serious accident putting Sophie in a coma. To try and stimulate Sophie, Cedric has taken Nina’s laptop and begins to replay these fragments that their daughter has filmed. Family secrets best kept that way are revealed, threatening the very fabric of the family. The film is at once conceptually original and compelling that explores the relationship between 'best kept secrets' and modern hand-held technology.

2.7 -- SPARROW, Yuri Shiller
In the village of Vasilievka, there is a special herd of horses. Legend has it that many years ago the herd miraculously appeared. Since then the villagers have lovingly protected the herd, even during hard times: war, drought and hunger. But the times they are a changing, the village cannot repay the bank loan, crops have failed and worker's salaries cannot be paid. The chairman, seeing no other option, decides to round up the horses to sell them to a slaughterhouse. The village shepherd wants to organize the villagers to protest but to no avail. They see no hope. Salvation lies with his young son Mitya Vorubiev, The Sparrow. Set in a beautiful pastoral landscape, this is a realistic portrayal of life in a typical modern Russian village.

2.5 -- DES-AUTORIZADOS (UN-AUTHORIZED), Elia K. Schneinder
Elias wishes to remain true to his art but he is under pressure to complete his latest play “Star-Crossed Lovers.” This obliges three of the characters (Nina, Fredrico and Vincent) to step into the real world. A credibly surreal, Kafkaesque film where fantasy and reality collide. I concluded the film was somewhat of an allegory on governmental control of the arts.

2.4 -- THE ORPHAN GIRL WITHOUT AN ARM, Jacques Richard
Eleonora has lived in an orphanage run by nuns all of her life. She is beautiful and full of zest for life but she is missing one arm. Respected judge and millionaire George London has taken an interest in her and adopts her as his protégé. He is also pursuing the owner of a club called ‘Le Feticheur,’ whom he suspects of engaging in prostitution and illegal trafficking. To get the judge to back off, the owner sends his beautiful assistant with an incriminating DVD. She never returns. A bizarre, dark comedy with many delightful moments undermined by plot predictability.

2.7 -- LA YUMA, Florence Jauguay
La Yuma is a strong-willed girl who lives in the crime infested Barrios of Managua. To escape the lack of love at home and the violence in the streets, she trains to become a professional boxer. Though a serious film, there dialogue is tastefully pickled with humour and hope.

2.0 -- LOST LOVE MURDER, Shoji Kubota
Japanese take on the traditional American story with an element of pink eiga. Shuichi Minamida confides to his friend and dentist that he is unable to sleep, suspecting his wife is having an affair. The dentist engages a detective agency to follow Shuichi’s wife. The result is not what one would expect. The script is loose and formulaic; the dialogue clichéd.

2.5 -- THE LAST SAFAR, Djamil Azizi
Safar is an Islamic term that means ‘One who has travelled’ or ‘To go on a journey.’ Amou Salah has just been forced to take retirement. He was the projectionist for a movie house in Algiers. He equips a truck with projection equipment; Amou (despite his age and declining health) decides to cross Algeria from north to south. Making stops at every community to screen a movie ranging from pure entertainment to social issues. This turns out to be his “Last Safar.” Filmed in documentary style, it plays like a travelogue of Algeria: no visa required.

2.6 -- DE LA INFANCIA (FROM CHILDHOOD), Carlos Carerra
Social drama with a touch of the paranormal. A teen gang member is killed in a shootout with the police. His ghost returns to help and protect a young boy who, along with his brother, sister and mother, is a victim of an abusive father. The father, a manipulative thief, has betrayed the trust of his ‘godfather.’ This is a gritty and violent film that deftly portrays the underbelly of Mexico. The film was hampered by poor camera work and lighting. The images were often dark and fuzzy.

3.4 -- BOX: THE HAKAMADA CASE, Banmei Takahashi
On June 30th 1966, in the wee hours of the morning in Shimizu City Shizuoka, the executive director of a soybean paste company along with his wife and two children were brutally stabbed to death. The home was subsequently set ablaze. Ex-boxer Iwao Hakamada was arrested as the prime suspect. He pleaded innocent until three days before his detention period was to end, whereupon he confessed. At the trial he again pleaded innocent. Three judges presided over the trial. Two of the said he was guilty. The third, Norimichi Kumamoto, believed he was innocent and the confession was coerced. Since he was the senior judge, he was forced to sign ‘guilty as charged’ so Hakamada was put on death row. Kumamoto resigned as judge and worked to prove Hakamada’s innocence. This well-crafted complex drama that indicts the judicial systems and the small mindedness of the police and judges (not as in “Law and Order”). Far too often, in the eagerness to put a case to rest -- especially those that are an embarrassment -- pertinent evidence is ignored and false incriminating evidence is planted.

2.3 -- CHRISTINE CRISTINA, Stefania Sandrelli
reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Despite Sandrelli's immeasurable talents and film credits, this historical film does not sufficiently give us enough of the film's real star, Cristina da Pizanno -- an amazing woman of remarkable courage who was born in 1364. She was a political rebel, spurned by a male dominated court, yet she remained fearless when it came to expressing her views through her writings of poetry and philosophy. The film focuses far too long on Charleton, an old eccentric poet/minstrel and who was key to getting her started in her writing -- a memorable period in her life that happened purely by accident and mutual need. But what about hearing more of her writings?! Still, her sufferings are vividly brought to light in the film. She was the first female poet to write during the tumultuous struggle between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians. Having enjoyed various comforts of court life under Charles V, she is left destitute with two children to support during all the political turmoil. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" could well have been penned by her. The problem with the film is there is too much focus on her suffering and the men who assisted her with her writing. We would have liked to have heard more of her writings. The ending was limp. Casting Amanda Sandrelli in the lead was not a wise decision. She was far too diminutive in her performance, though quite darling in gait and expression. 

2.7 -- APNEA, Ari Bafalouka
Apnea is defined as a temporary suspension of breathing. Swimmers and divers often use the technique of staying under water for between four and five minutes. This pratice maintains and improves their physical condition and can benefit breathing control and blood oxygenation. During one such exercise, Demitris, 23, is reflecting on his relationship with Elsa and dreaming of becoming a world-champion swimmer. Elsa is an activist for the environment. She is with her two colleagues on an island collecting samples from dolphins for a toxicology report. One night Demitris receives a call saying she has gone missing. Well scripted drama that looks into the worlds of professional swimming and environmental activism.

2.7 -- APNEA, Ari Bafalouka
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The opening scene is hypnotic as the screen seems to stop any feeling or sense of time. Dimitris sits motionless, deep and still wrapped in a Le Penseur pose as he holds his breath in the apnea technique in a huge swimming pool. He holds the record in the European Championship, and as such, holding his breath under water is tantamount to getting a strong start and the fastest finish. He swims like a dolphin, yet his melancholic nature (he is emtionally paralyzed) prevents him from feeling as free as one. When he meets Greenpeace activist, Elsa, he is unable to imitate any of the whale and dolphin sounds, and tells her to stop doing them. Elsa comes to realize that Dimitris practices apnea outside the water, too for, holding his breath and his emotions deep within his soul. Tragic, ironic events occur that take Elsa far out to sea at night in a reckless move to shout "Murderers" at the top of her lungs at the dolphin fisherman. The haunting music by Nikos Kypourgos moves like a lyrical wave into the beautiful cinematography. The director, himself, was Greece's freestyle 50 and 100 meter freestyle swimming champion -- an honour he held for eight straight years. This is an elegant film that deserves to be in the festival's First Feature World Competition category. Bafalouka just might in the movie pool too.  

3.0 -- THE BUILDING MANAGER, Periklis Hoursoglou
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This brilliant director also stars in this slice of luckless life where the "s" word literally hits the fan in the tenant building Pavlos has volunteered to manage. Life is steeped in rot for Pavlos. His marriage is on the rocks; the hired plumber walks out on the job which needs instant attention, and his annoying well-meaning mother has lost all receipts from the previous plumber who was supposed to fix the toilet pipe problems. Could things get any worse? Thankfully, hope fills the void in Pavlos' life in the form of Gianna. She works at her uncle's flower nursery, and offers Pavlos joy and respite from the hellish horrors he endures due to broken pipes and people who never cooperate with him. This film is able to make the worst moments funny. After all, we can all identify with house/apartment issues. Leave it to the Greeks to make the tragic shamefully comedic. Hoursoglou, a superb actor with a hang-dog kind facem is a Greek treasure.  

1.8 -- THE LAND OF THE ASTRONAUTS, Carl Colpaert
Jack MacKenzie was once a successful movie composer. The title refers to his biggest hit for which he won an award. Due to certain demons, especially those found in a bottle, he now has to drive a limo to make ends meet. This is a serious premise (could have been a powerful and emotionally stirring film about the evil of substance abuse) that was badly handled. The film was dragged down by too many clichés, the sequence of events often illogical and it was difficult to tell what was really happening or what was in his mind.

3.1 -- THE LAND OF THE ASTRONAUTS, Carl Colpaert
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] You can't begin to review this film without highlighting the brilliant acting of David Arquette and Bijou Philips. Arquette plays Jack MacKenzie, a Hollywood composer who has taken on a limo driving job. Unstable and a recovering alcoholic, MacKenzie meets Erica, a femme fatale and actress who is as much an escapist as he is. In fact, in this film, reality and fantasy merge. It's surreal -- an out of space experience for viewer and MacKenzie alike. He composed the music for the film, but he's a has-been, and in his desperation to stay on track with his career, he ends up derailing himself. In fact, the film ends on a lone railway track, and as the train approaches with his stationary limo striding the tracks, we find out just how devastating it is for him to deal with the death of his daughter years before the film unfolds and the land of the astronauts enters everyone's world, including the viewer. This film is uniquely odd and riveting. Arquette is amazing, as awesome as outer space itself.  

3.0 -- LISANKA, Daniel Díaz Torres
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A delightful, entertaining film that is politically flavoured. Events occur in 1962, and the revolutionary contingency rules in Cuba. Both political camps (the traditional versus Communist rule) are presented in the colourful array of characters -- in particular -- Lisanka who drives the tractor in the small but politically charged town of Veredas del Guayabal. Here we meet the old traditionalists, such as the village priest who fears for the future of his church, his congregation and especially the Russians who have come to work alongside many Cubans in the village. Eventually the Missile Crisis arrives. Set against this turbulent period, the story nonetheless unfolds with typical Cuban charm. Lisanka is pursued by 3 suitors, including the village leader who resembles Che, a new arrival -- a Russian, and a long-time friend who cannot forget his past relationship with her. But he has no political conscience which turns her off. In the end, she chooses no one but her beloved trusty tractor. The love and political pull of the story are inextricably linked without plot contrivance. Nothing about the film is preachy, fascicle nor improbable. It's a Cuban gem with great ensemble acting. Miriel Ceja as Lisanka is wonderful.  

The English translation for
friche is ‘fallow.’ This human comedy-drama tells the story of an improbable encounter that changes the course of a life. Germain (Gérard Depardieu) is a simple man in his 50s who has never learned to read properly, who spends his days in the park counting pigeons (just to make sure they are all there), working on his vegetable garden, spending time with his girlfriend Annete and having a drink with his friends in a local tavern. His mother blames him for her miserable life. Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus) is a 95-year-old who had a successful career as a scientist and has a passion for classic French literature (Albert Camus). She is a learned woman and world-traveller. One afternoon they meet in the park and immediately hit it off. This is definitely one of Gérard Depardieu’s finest performances.

2.4 -- VENICE, Jan Jakub Kolski
Eleven-year-old Marek has an obsessive desire to go to with his family to Venice, the city on water. He has learned all of its streets and squares by heart. Will his dream come true? Well, it is 1939, Hitler is getting set to invade Poland and his father has joined the army. Instead, Marek and his mother go to Aunt Veronica’s villa in Zaleszczykach on the San. He builds a replica of Venice (if he can’t go to Venice then have it come to him) when the basement floods. The film, despite its premise, failed to strike an emotional chord, was hampered by loose direction and an unclear ending.

2.3 -- LOST HERITAGE, Christian Lara
Pierre Mombin from Guadeloupe is invited to visit a small African kingdom. When he gets there it's to fulfill a prophecy. The previous king had died leaving no male heir to the throne. so according to tradition the elders consult the King’s skull which tells of the prophecy: ‘from a far away land shall come the new king and he shall save the kingdom from danger and that he is to be the rightful heir.’ To consummate the coronation he must get married. The scenario is a simplistic, even child-like, featuring aspects of fetishism. A low-budget affair with average performances and contrived dialogue.

2.4 -- KOLORÁDÓ KID , András B. Vágvölgyi
Drama based on the life of Béla Kreuzer, an inveterate gambler, who in the summer of 1959 was arrested for his involvement in the 1956 Hungarian revolution and sentenced to 15 years in prison. With proper historical persepctive, the film's choppy editing makes it difficult to decipher the sequence of events as the film jumps from one time period to another.

2.7 -- WINGS OF THE NIGHT, Serdar Akar
Socio-political thriller that deals with justice, equality and freedom. Gece was four-years-old when in 1980 when she witnessed her parents being murdered by Turkish police. Growing up embittered and seeking revenge, she has arrived in Istanbul on a suicide bombing mission. She meets Yusuf, a budding track star, and a connection develops. This endangers the mission sd Gece now faces a difficult decision. This film is insightful in providing details into the various aspects of a suicide bombing mission: preparations, emotions, risks and other concerns. The subtitles contained many serious spelling and grammatical errors.

2.5 -- CITY OF LIFE, Ali Mostafa
Modern day Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, is a global city and a hub for business and tourism. This debut feature film follows a group of individuals whose lives are on a violent collision course. This collision will result in a better life for some; for others it will be for the worse. The multiplicity of languages often made it difficult to follow dialogue. The use of time-lapse camera work for some scenes was annoying. The film is a mix of kitsch and serious drama.

2.7 -- SNOW QUEEN, Marko Raat
An adult adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the same name. Naine (Helena Merzan), a woman in her 40s, has just been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. She is told that in order to survive, she has to go to the coldest valley of Norway (this is to freeze the growth of cancer cells) and to break the heart of a virgin boy. When she arrives at said valley, a cabin by a lake where the caribou herds gather when they are sick, she has the heat turned off and fills all of the sinks and bathtub to overflow. This turns the floor of the cabin into a skating rink. She goes into the city and picks up 14-year-old Jasper (Artur Tedremägi). She becomes known as ‘The Snow Queen.’ This is a slow-paced, atmospheric, moody and at times odd film. Jittery camera work made it hard to see what was happening during certain sequences.

3.9 -- CONFUCIUS, Mei Hu
Powerful sweeping biopic of Confucius (Kǒng Qiū, 551 BC – 479 BC), whose profound wisdom was a beacon of light in the midst of the chaotic darkness that predominated feudal China at the time. High production values, commanding performances, exquisite costumes and set design along with a profound dialogue will make this a classic ‘must see’ film. Confucius is considered one of the world's greatest sage of modern man and his influence is felt world-wide.

2.4 -- IMPASSE OF DESIRE, Michel Rodde
Robert Block (Rémy Girard) is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He is married to Carole (Natacha Régnier) who is much younger than him. One day he discovers that she is cheating on him. This disturbs him personally and professionally. In his patient, Leo Debond (Laurent Lucas), he finds the perfect accomplice to ease his pain. Leo is psychotic, depressed and easily convinced that what he sees is an illusion. The exchanges between the characters of Rémy and Laurent provide the dark humour in this thriller that doesn’t quite live up to the standard of Hitchcock.

3.5 -- BLUE KNIGHT, Zhuo Gehe
Slow-paced human drama that is a fascinating anthropological study of modern day life on the grasslands of Mongolia; dealing with the clash between generations. The older generation want their children to carry on the old traditions whereas the younger are lured by city lights and exploring the world outside. This film follows the family of Sadi Bisi. When his daughter was 19, she fell in love with a sheep trader and wanted to go off with him. Her mother supported her and told her husband to allow her to love whomever she wants. But Sadi Bisi did not believe that sheep trading was a worthwhile or honest profession so he refused to consent Eight years later, she is married to a drunk, has a three year old daughter, is miserable and angry with her father. He regrets not letting her go but his ‘fatherly’ pride doesn’t allow it. Meanwhile, his once devoted son is lured by life in the city. Sadi Bisi offers his most precious horse as an incentive for him to stay.

2.7 -- THE TRUTH ABOUT DRACULA, Stanislaw Mucha
Bram Stokers novel “Dracula” is claimed. by many, to have been inspired by the real-life 15th century Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler. This fascinating and entertaining documentary explores this link. It asks Romanians of their impressions and opinions about Vlad the Impaler, about Dracula and his effect on Romania’s tourist industry. The alleged link with Nicolae Ceauşescu, who claimed to have been a reincarnation of Vlad the Impaler, is also explored.

1.0 -- MARY, Andrey Petrucha
Ill-conceived and seemingly endless genre film about a man, Allen, who is awakened at six am on a Saturday. It is his best friend who is stuck at the airport and his wife, Mary, has not shown up and does not answer her phone. Allen goes to their home to check it out. Finding her, lying dead and half naked on the floor, he gives in to temptation. Then strange and inexplicable things begin to happen. The film is further hampered by terrible acting and staged dialogue.

3.0 -- FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO, Carlos Saura
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This marvellous film will appeal to especially lovers of flamenco because it presents a colourful pastiche of flamenco dancers, singers and instrumentalists through a series of seven exciting short performances. Each one is different from the next. It's thrilling to witness the astounding talents of such traditional singers as Eva la Yerbabuena, who shows no signs of slowing down despite decades of singing for the world. One of the most plaintive songs, "Solba Por Bulerias," sung by the magnificent Montse Cortes and accompanied by Diego del Morao on guitar, was most memorable. Most intriguing was Rocio Molina, who danced flamenco with a cigarette in her mouth. She wore a loose mesh top and slacks, and looked like an actor from "West Side Story," but as soon as her heels started clicking, we knew this piece particularly embodied fusion flamenco -- that plays loose with the rules since it has been transformed by a new generation of performers, some who prefer tapping knuckles on a table rather than clicking their castanets. Utterly unique, this documentary, with no talking, is a tribute to the unstoppable evolution of flamenco. Its new forms are full of surprises, such as when two jazz pianists suddenly burst out in song, vocalizing emotions -- that old-age gypsy cry of loneliness and love, and that is why "Flamenco, Flamenco" is so physically and emotionally affecting during and after every performance.

2.7 -- RETORNOS, Luis Avilés
After a fatal accident, Alvaro leaves his home village. Ten years later, he returns to pay his last respects to his father. His brother is still angry over what happened. His daughter, Mar, is upset because she thinks he abandoned her and her mother. Actually the whole village is angry with him. He wants to leave as soon as he can but when he discovers a young woman lying dead on the road, things become more complicated. When he reports this to the police, the officer tells him that he needs to wait until the autopsy report comes in. The young woman is a friend of Mar and works in the local strip club. Alvaro suspects that she may have been murdered, so he starts his own investigation. He uncovers a dark past event. Engaging performances and good character development make this an engaging mystery that reveals how grudges often betray deep roots.

2.4 -- IVORY, Andrew W. Chan
Drama about two pianists vying to win top prize at the International Liszt Competition in Budapest, Hungary. Their professional fate will be decided by the outcome. The piano based selections were outstanding but the plot was less than noteworthy and the personalities failed to engage.

2.3 -- MANON LESCAULT, Gabriel Aghion
Erotic soap set in early 18th century France and Louisiana. It tells of the ill-fated affair between Le Chevalier Des Grieux and his lover Manon Lescault. Des Grieux is of Nobility. He forfeits his inheritance by running off with Manon. Due to her taste for luxury, Des Grieux's wealth quickly evaporates. Manon leaves him for a while but their love for each other brings them back together. This is just an average swashbuckler that is hampered by poor editing and bad lighting.

3.0 -- PRINCESS, Arto Halonen
Social drama based on Helsinki’s Kellokoski Mental Hospital’s most famous patient, Anna Lappaleinen (played with incredible force by Katja Kukkola). She is hospitalised in 1945 and diagnosed as manic depressive with symptoms of schizophrenia. She claims she is a princess and she does not want to be addressed by her real name. So begins a long battle over how to treat her delusion. Do we play along with it or treat with the conventional methods at the time: first electro-shock treatment and later, a lobotomy? As her positive effect on the other patients becomes known, what to do with her becomes more problematic. The hospital eventually becomes her royal castle and the patients her subjects. Beyond the story, the film is an indictment on the treatment of psychiatric patients.

2.4 -- SEBBE, Babak Najafi
Sebbe (short for Sebastian) is a 15-year-old boy who lives with his mother. They are dealing with the recent death of their father/husband. They live in a run-down housing estate in a Gothenburg (Sweden) suburb. Eva, stressed from her overnight job and being a single mother, often explodes at Sebbe. She also has trouble making ends meet. Sebbe, small for his age and having no friends, is often mercilessly bullied by a clique of boys. The boy who leads this clique lives in the same building. When, in order to give her son a birthday gift, Eva heedlessly steals the boy’s jacket. Sebbe is then subjected to further humiliations. The plot line is predictable, characters are superficial and the manner in which the stresses are handled is unrealistic.

2.6 -- CHANCE, Abner Benaim
A delightful dark comedy about two live-in maids turning the table on their abusive employers. Toña and Paquita work for the Gonzalez- Dubois household. He is running for a government position in Panama on the platform that puts the people of Panama first. His wife loves to go on shopping sprees. They have three children. The twin girls boss the maids around. The young boy loves the maids and treats them like aunts. Toña loves to play the weekly lottery. They are planning to go to Miami on a weekend shopping spree. When Paquita asks for seven weeks back pay (for her son’s education), she is brushed off and told to wait until the family returns on Monday. Toña and Paquita have had enough. As the family gets set to leave for Miami, the maids decide to hold them hostage until they receive what is rightfully theirs, Over the course of the weekend, certain secrets are revealed.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This delightful film finds its own way to bring two star-crossed lovers together despite the huge wall (as in Berlin) that prevents them from being together. Sascha, a young East German border guard, falls for Franzi, a West German woman he meets when she crosses over the border during many of her shopping excursions (things there are cheaper). But how can they ever be together given that big bad wall? Where there's a will there's a way. By exchanging identities and passports with her look-alike East German friend, whom she meets through Sascha -- Franzi finds a way to spend a night with her Sascha. But as things heat up, the police from both sides of the wall decide to stop the affair and use the girls to spy on Sascha and his friend. It's a hilarious case of East meeting West in more ways than one. The juicy mix of impossible love, spying and chicks on the run from the Stasi and the CIA is enough to make the Berlin Wall come tumbling down. And that is just what happens at the end of this quirky wonderful film.  

3.3 -- THE DAY OF THE CAT (DER GROSSE KATER), Wolfgang Panzer
Kater (Bruno Ganz in his usual profound in character performance) is the president of Switzerland. He is at the peak of his political career yet he is a critical juncture. He is seeking re-election but his popularity in the polls is down. His eight-year old son is in a clinic dying of cancer. To try and boost his popularity in the polls he invites the King and Queen of Spain to pay a Royal visit. Kater and Pfiff have been friends since childhood but the friendship has turned sour as Kater married Pfiff’s fiancée Marie. Pfiff is head of the secret service. He sees an opportunity to take revenge on Kater by sabotaging the Royal tour. This is a powerful and emotionally touching drama that portrays the world of diplomacy protocol and loyalty; exposing the stresses of choosing between affairs of the state or those of the family.

2.7 -- THE DAY OF THE CAT (DER GROSSE KATER), Wolfgang Panzer
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] President Kater of Bern is to receive the king and queen of Spain, but his long-time advisor and supposed friend who heads the Secret Service never forgave Kater for marrying a woman he himself was engaged to. His vengeance involves a devious plan to foul the important celebrations. He has engineered a blitz media campaign that focuses on the queen's visit to various hospitals, including the one where Kater's dying child is. His wife believes her own husband planned the visit to gain sympathy from the people. But nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from the interesting plot, award-winning actor Bruno Ganz gains everyone's sympathy with his superb acting.  

A vivid depiction of the realities of day-to-day life in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro as experienced by three young women. Jessica, Sabrina and Dianne are best of friends. All three share the same dreams as young woman everywhere in the world, but in order to survive and achieve those dreams they sometimes work as prostitutes. Jessica wants to be able to see her daughter more often and give her a good life and enters into an arrangement with an inmate to be his wife in return for money. Sabrina wants an MP3 and is celebrating with her new boyfriend. Dianne wants to escape an abusive uncle and to waltz with her father on her 15th birthday.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Three teenage women share their individual woes that come with living in Rio de Janeiro's favela district. One is pregnant and her boyfriend leaves her. The other, a prostitute, gets beaten up and wants custody of her child. Still their resilience, determination, hope and humour pull them up from the gutter into the realm where dreams might come true. The film vividly shows the desperate circumstances endured by far too many women in Brazil. Still, this film is not depressing. It somehow lifts your spirits because that is the gift women of Brazil give one another.  

2.5 -- LUANDA, A FÁBRICA DA MÚSICA (LUANDA, MUSIC FACTORY), Kiluanje Liberdade, Inês Gonçalves
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The slum of Luanda, where dust, mortar and graffiti form the visual stimulation of the day, is nonetheless seething with vitality and spirited neighbourhood boys. They write their own rap, and have it recorded by Buda, the resident DJ who provides the background beats via his computer. Despite the lack of electricity, water, housing and air conditioners, the polyphonic kuduru music they make which is featured in this documentary reflects the stunning energy and imagination in the kids of Angola. Their special lingo that allude to their families, life, even gang members end up in a CD, thanks to Buda -- an intelligent producer who understands that the music the kids make keeps them off the street and in his 'studio.' One day, these kids will be 'discovered' by some Hollywood producer. What's more, their incredible break dancing and crumping -- Angola style -- makes the TV show, "So You Think You Can Dance" look like child play.  

2.8 -- ROUTE 132, Louis Bélanger
Bélanger’s latest is a buddy-road-movie that deals with the concept that the best way to deal with grief is to return to one’s roots, nature and religion. Other recent films have dealt with this more effectively: “Mourning for Anna” and “The Novena.” Gilles’ (François Papineau) five-year-old son has just died. Drowning his sorrows the night before the funeral in a local tavern, Gilles encounters his old friend Bob (Alexis Martin). Gilles suggests that together they take Highway 132 (Quebec’s longest) to the Lower St Lawrence region to rob the local banks. A well acted and directed film that has a balanced mix of melodrama and humour especially when urban mentality clashes with that of rural Quebec.

Epic historical drama set in 16th century France during the religious wars between the Catholics and the Huguenots (French Calvinists), during the reign of Charles IX. A well-acted and scripted tale of alliances sealed through marriage and the conflict between desire versus responsibily and duty to family and king. This is an accurate portrait of Renaissance Period both in costume and set design.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Such splendour in this historical epic without signs of contrivance. The plot is equally captivating, and the women as pretty as the ornate dresses they wear. The Catholics and the Protestants are at war. Skirmishes and heavy-duty battles plaque the times and that is the fervour which Marie de Mézières must deal with during her loveless marriage to the Prince of Montpensier. The Prince notes how men are attracted to her, especially Henri de Guise who in fact proves to be unworthy of her love. While she is married to the Prince who is often called away to battle, she is schooled by the scholar, Chabannes who also falls in love with her. However, he only has her best interest at heart. He was a Protestant deserter who now serves the Catholic Prince with supreme dedication. So many intrigues, interesting characters and political plots make this outstanding film a joy to watch.  

2.5 -- FAKE ORGASM, Jo Sol
A creative and experimental documentary that is sure to challenge and question one’s concepts regarding gender identity. Is it ‘black and white’ or ‘male and female’ or is there an in-between? Film mainly features conceptual artist, performer and director Lazlo Pearlman (b. 1972), whose shows offer audiences a 'firsthand' transgender experience. Afraid of becoming just another 'freak' show, Lazlo is forced to introduce novelty (the polite word) in every show.

2.5 -- BO, Hans Herbots
A chronicle of 15-year-old Deborah who, in her desire to escape the boredom of her life in the suburbs, becomes an escort. She is introduced to her new day job by her more experienced friend Jennifer. Deborah assumes Bo as an alias. Unprepared for this kind of life, she spirals downward into drugs, cheap thrills and even spends time in a juvenile detention center. This is Ella June-Henraud’s first major role as Bo (Deborah) and she is outstanding. Plot wise "Bo" is a formulaic and predictable thriller.

Documentary that explores the ‘Code of Silence’ that has been prevalent in Spain since the death of Franco 30 years ago. The shroud that had been cast over the country has now been lifted and those who suffered under Franco’s regime are beginning to speak out about their experience. This film provides a more detailed picture than Antonio P. Molero’s & Jesus Sanjurjo’s 55 min. reflection entitled “La Fin De L’attente” (that screened at this year’s Festivalissimo).

3.0 -- SNOWMAN'S LAND, Thomasz Thompson
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Walter always misses his mark as a hired hit man, but when he teams up with Micky, another hit man who is far too trigger happy for his own good, things literally backfire, and the two fellows end up being targets themselves to a man named Berger whose estate they have been hired to watch over. Not much happening in the huge lonely enclave atop the Carpathian Mountains -- not until Sybille, Berger's mistress arrives on the scene. She soon finds her sexual equal in Micky, and like him, she has a fondness for guns. In fact, insane Sybille ends up accidently firing his gun on herself during her carnal encounter with Micky. It's one of the most memorable moments in the movie, particularly how she reacts to her fatal mishap. Suffice it to say, in this dark comedy/thriller Sybille sort of had it coming to her. Despite Walter and Micky's profession, you end up liking these two bullet bungling buffoons. Violence, tension and humour stir the plot pot, making this movie a truly unique viewing experience.  

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Ten-year-old Gabriel with 30-year-old Roseli is searching for his dad in Rio de Janeiro. His overactive imagination proves to have powers far beyond anyone's expectations. He never finds his biological dad, but he does end up finding his mother -- purely by chance. She ends up finding her own true love aside from suddenly gaining her son Gabriel whom she instinctively knows is the son she abandoned years ago. A robbery and happenstance bring all the characters together, and each ends up in happy relationships that seem most improbable -- all the more so, given the fact that one character threatened another at gun point which in turn, twisted the plot into an unlikely tangle of chance meetings. But then again, truth can sometimes prove stranger than fiction. Unfortunately, this movie needs more than love to rescue it.  

3.9 -- PAPER BIRDS (PÁJAROS DE PAPEL) , Emilio Aragón
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This wonderful film has everything to move you to tears and laughter. Spain is under the clutches of Franco's Fascism. A vaudeville troop comprising characters who have endured the horrors of the war come together to try to make their compatriots laugh once again, all the while having to feed themselves under harsh times. A little orphan boy named Miguel joins the troupe, learning the tricks of the trade, but he is on a quest to find his mother. The finale of this film is heartbreaking. Deserving of the festival's first film competition category, "Paper Birds" is an instant classic. Furthermore, the film's witty dialogue and breathtaking ensemble acting along with a politically subversive subplot mesh beautifully without contrivance. You will never forget the characters in this movie and the performances delivered by the actors who bring their challenging roles to life.  

3.7 -- PAPER BIRDS (PÁJAROS DE PAPEL), Emilio Aragón
A remarkable, well performed and directed first feature set in post-Spanish civil war. The film, in its precision and attention to detail, captures every nuance to effectively reproduce the shell-shocked atmosphere of a country that has been ravaged by a brutal civil war and is currently under a repressive regime. Musician Jorge (Imanol Arias), ventriloquist Enrique (Lluis Homar), Singer Rocio (Carmen Machi) and young orphan Miguel (Roger Princep) form an unlikely family bond. They have lost everything in the war and are living from day to day, scrounging for food and shelter. In performing for an itinerant vaudeville show and sharing their joys and sorrows, they succeed in escaping their misery. But they are suspected by the authorities (Franco's thugs), who send ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ Both the leads and supporting actors give fine performances. Most outstanding is that of 11-year-old Roger Princep (The Orphanage).

Dramatization of the encounter between charismatic French philosopher Simone Weill and philosopher peasant and vineyard owner Gustav Thibon. Along with his wife, Yvette, he invites Simone to stay on his vineyard. He would later publish what would become her most well known work, “Gravity and Grace,” four years after her death in 1943. The script and direction were poor; the sub paar editing contained too many pointless and non-sequential scenes.

2.4 -- BUS PALLADIUM, Christopher Thompson
Childhood friends Lucas, Manu, Philippe, Jacob and Mario form a rock band named ‘Lust’ in the 1980s. They naively believe that the power of their music will make them even bigger than The Rolling Stones. As they begin to be recognized, fault-lines begin to show: jealousies, rivalries. Aspiring-rock-band-seeking-stardom is a commonly done subject in far superior films. Director sticks to conventional plot.

3.0 -- CHE, UN HOMBRE NUEVO, Tristán Bauer
Subjective portrait of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, who remains an icon of revolution over four decades after his death. Well constructed documentary that effectively uses archival footage and readings from his diaries to paint an intimate picture of the man to clearly show that he was a visionary who put humanity first. His integrity and depth of spirit is also made apparent.

3.9 -- CHE, UN HOMBRE NUEVO, Tristán Bauer
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This compelling documentary is utterly inspiring. If you think you know everything there is to know about this astounding human being, take at look at this unique film and bear witness to what 12 years of research on Ernesto Guevara (Che) can yield. You will be amazed by the breadth and brilliance of the man himself. His soul was sweet and strong. The film reveals how Che was always searching for insight into mankind's makeup. Photographing secret manuscripts and documents encased in cabinets at the Bolivian Academy of Military History, Bauer and his dedicated little team unearth the most riveting and revealing aspects of this hero -- that is before the Bolivian government realizes it made a bureaucratic blunder, and instantly locks the room up for good. Nonetheless, three important manuscripts are photographed containing Che's poetic letters of love to his wife, his philosophical writings and his personal literary catalogues of world literature he never ceased to read, even while spending some 16 months in Cuba's Sierra Maestra. To hear the man's own voice and see him in action proves his utter humility, honesty and unflinching integrity to help others suffering from domination by foreign and local powers. He went deep into dangerous territory all over the world; the film painstakingly documents this with surprising detail. Despite his adventuresome spirit, this often lonely leader had to deal with chronic asthma. He likened it to a relationship that goes through good and bad times. Still, he never wasted a moment in self-pity or frivolity. By helping the oppressed, workers in the fields and factories, the sickly, the poor, children and the elderly, he discovered his true bent: "I am a soldier and a doctor". But, as he evolved, he truly became a model revolutionary oozing charm, compassion and unmistakable humanity while still exercising consistency, leadership and humour. A poet, philosopher and care giver, he took his skills around the world, helping fighters from other countries overthrow megalomaniacal leaders whose self-interest deprived the common man the right to eat and work. From South Vietnam and Angola to Russia, China and so many other nations, including the USA, Che thrusts his political wisdom into the hearts and minds of those present, regardless of hostility. This lengthy film illustrates the beautiful heart inside the child-like dreams that possessed Che. Ernesto Guevara -- his real name -- never swerved from his absolute belief in man's desire to be free and kind to others. His mission was that of trying to set into place governments that would allow such notions to happen. He believed in the common man; his mission involved trudging for some 18 years through jungle, mud, rivers and swamps with his own men and locals -- strangers following his side in the hopes of unshackling their lives from dreadful injustices. There are so many memorable events that Che created for others, and through this remarkable film, we come to know them, and the man a little better. One can't help but honour this hero. At 39, Che was murdered, yet the British photographer who came to Bolivia to take pictures of his bullet-ridden body attests to the fact that a brilliant light emanated from his lifeless body. Indeed the photo shows his magnificent eyes. They appear so loving and full of wonder. How tragic that they will never see again. Give peace a chance was his mission, and although many did not nor still do not agree with his methods, the film through Che's compassionate speeches explains how the leader justifies the necessity of violence in specific circumstances. The world lost such a beautiful spirit, and this film will convert you to see him as such. 

2.7 -- DOOMAN RIVER, Lu Zhang
The Dooman River forms part of the border between North Korea and China. Many North Koreans risk their lives crossing the river into China in order to procure food for their families; crossing over means having to negotiate the river's brittle ice surface as well as the armed North Korean soldiers that patrol the border. This film is a slow-paced slice-of-life drama set in a Chinese community and how its inhabitants deal with the day to day influx of North Koreans. Their concerns are effectively captured with credible performances and a tight, well directed script.

2.8 -- TURQUAZE, Kadir Balci
With a nod to German director, Faith Akin, Kadir Balci (b. in Belgium) examines the identity crisis facing second generation Turks born in the Germany that welcomed their parents in the 1960s. Ediz (36), Timur (28) and Bora (16) have buried their father in Istanbul. They return to Belgium but their mother remains. The death of their father forces the three brothers to find a new balance. Ediz assumes the role of the father while Timur attempts to fulfill his father’s dream of playing the trumpet in a brass band which alienates his girlfriend, Sarah. Bora, with a poor choice of friends, gets into mischief. Film is well directed and successfully exposes the subtle prejudices that often lie just below the surface.

2.6 -- THE NEIGHBOUR, Naghmeh Shirkhan
Shirin has emigrated from Iran and now lives in Vancouver. Her life revolves around a passion for tango and fond memories of her childhood with her grandmother. Her daily routine is disrupted when she meets her next door neighbour, Leila, who is a single mother of five-year-old daughter, Parisa. She becomes concerned when she discovers that Leila often leaves Parisa alone in the apartment. Good acting not helped by a somewhat contrived (melodramatic) story line.

2.4 -- LIQUID LOVE, Marco Luca Cattaneo
Forty-year-old Bologna street sweeper, Mario, lives with invalid octogenarian mother. His mother is in need of constant care as she has just suffered a stroke. Mario is a loner and spends his free time watching porn on the Internet. One day he meets Agatha, who is a single mother and works in a cafe. Bursting into Mario’s life with the force of a hurricane, she awakens long dormant feelings and emotions. This is a commonly treated subject without any element to qualify it as noteworthy. Film contains many subtitle errors.

2.5 -- EMIR, Chito Roño
A Filipino musical about the necessity of having to leave the family nest and seek work abroad. Amelia goes to work as a nanny in the Emirates for the Sheik’s new born son, Ahmed. Amelia teaches Ahmed Filipino culture, values and language (Tagalog). The music and dance is kitschy at the beginning and not helped by poor sound quality. The plot was also threatening to qualify as kitsch until the film introduced political intrique concerning the possibility of war with a neighbouring Emirate. Overall, enjoyable and agreeably diversionary.

2.0 -- THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER, David Robert Mitchell
In a typical sleepy American suburb, high-school students, on the last night of summer, go to various sleepovers. This is the last night of freedom before the new school year begins. The film follows four principal characters searching for love and adventure in the context of teenhood -- its disquietude and volatility. An ensemble cast of little known actors on a subject not commonly (cinematically) treated. Not one performance stands out and the film’s appeal is limited to the academically (sociology) minded.

2.4 -- THE MIGRANT WORKER, Yusup Razykov
Sadik, an elderly Uzbek patriarch, arranges with local gangsters to travel to Moscow to look for his grandson Aman, who has not returned to the village. In return, he agrees to smuggle in drugs. When he arrives, the police raid the apartment and he is arrested. The cop on duty, seeing that he is a decorated war vet (he fought during WWII), releases him. A Moldavian prostitute, Vika, taking his problems to heart, agrees to help him find his grandson. What could have been a powerful sociological study into the plight of workers from former Soviet satellite countries is seriously hampered by the use of a single voice-over, in Russian, while the spoken dialogue is in Uzbek.

2.4 -- SWEET LITTLE LIES, Hitoshi Yazaki
A tale about how appearances can be deceiving. Ruriko and Satoshi have been married for three years. She is a teddy bear designer and he is an IT professional. They express love to each other but it is without passion. Ruriko calls her husband on his cell when he is playing video games in the next room. Inevitably this leads to both seeking passion elsewhere. Ruriko finds it in Haruo, an admirer of her work. Satoshi finds it in Shio, whom he meets at a scuba diving reunion. The result is a melodramatic film that is sterile and lacking in emotional gravitas.

3.0 -- RUN IF YOU CAN , Dietrich Bruggerman
A riveting, emotionally charged drama centering on a three-way friendship. Ben is desperate, frustrated and wheel-chair bound. Christian is his new personal assistant. Annika is an aspiring cellist. One morning, Annika crashes her bike when she goes through a red-light and nearly smashes into Christian. He takes her bike to repair it. Ben drives him to Annika’s. While parked in front of her house, Annika knocks over a bust of a famous composer. It comes crashing down onto Ben’s car. The three develop a close friendship. A powerful film that examines how we face our fears and negotiate the roadblocks life throws in our path.

2.9 -- THE CAMERA MURDERER , Robert Adrian Pejo
Psycho-thriller. Heinrich and Eva spend the Easter weekend in country-side house (on Lake Ferto-Neusiedlersee, Hungary, near Austrian border) owned by Thomas and Sonja. Thomas, Heinrich and Eva are old friends. What begins as a quiet relaxing weekend morphs into its opposite when a neighbour reveals that three children from the area are missing and that a snuff video, filmed nearby, has been circulating on the Internet. As events unfold in the news, suspicions and accusations implicate both Thomas and Heinrich who seem to be hiding something. Who is the ‘camera murderer?’ is not revealed until the final scene.

2.3 -- DISMISSED, Rogério Corrêa
Social drama that focuses on a 38-year-old metalworker, Oton, who has been working at a Sao Paulo factory for 20 years. He is married to Camila, who is expecting (any time soon) their second child. One day Oton finds his time card no longer works. He goes to the human resources officer to complain that the scanner is defective, and discovers that the factory has been bought out by a progressive Japanese firm, that is among the first to be laid-off. In a fit of rage, he slices his arm and signs the dismissal form in blood. As Oton’s world collapses around him, loses complete control of his life. A well intended but formulaic film that gets bogged down in a predictable plot.

2.7 -- SWANSONG: THE STORY OF OCCI BYRNE, Connor Mcdermottroe
Austin ‘Occi’ Byrne has been teased and bullied all of his life for not having a father. Tormented and full of rage, when called a bastard, Occi loses it and eventually ends up in a mental institution where he suddenly finds himself wanting to know who his real father is. The story unfolds through Occi’s eyes in a series of chaotic encounters tempered with moments of tenderness and longing. Well acted but editing was somewhat choppy.

3.5 -- RAIL TRUCK, Hirofumi Kawaguchi
Yumiko Yano has just become a widow. Along with her sons Atsushi and Toki, she decides to bring the ashes of her late husband home to his parents, who live in a mountain village in the south of Taiwan. Her father-in-law served in the Japanese army during the war, thus she has a fascination with Japan. This is an evocative and touching film that delves deep into ethnic and cultural values, along with the bond that ties and unites family. It is also about discovering a world outside of one’s own as the two boys explore the stunning mountainous country near the village.

2.6 -- TEHRAN TEHRAN, Dariush Mehrjui, Mehdi Karampour
Two short 50 min. films that explore Tehran from two opposing views. The first, “Days of Acquaintance,” by Mehrjui, centers on a working class family. During New Year celebrations, the roof of their residence collapses. They decide to go to Tehran but the last bus has just left, except for one: a private tour bus of senior citizens. They are welcomed on and are treated to a day of the fabled Iranian hospitality. An awe-inspiring tour, which includes many of Tehran’s modern and historical landmark buildings, ensues. “The Last String,” by Karampour, is about a co-ed rock band trying to get permission for a public performance. The narrative unfolds from the point-of-view of each band member.

2.4 -- THE CÉZANNE AFFAIR, Sergio Rubini
Gabriel Rossetti returns home to his say goodbye to his dying father, Ernesto, who whispers something into his son's ear that awakens a forgotten memory. In the late 60s, Ernesto was the stationmaster but he had an ambition to be a famous painter. He was to give an exposition of his paintings that would be billed as a tribute to his inspiration, Paul Cézanne. As a center piece, Cézanne’s famous self-portrait would be displayed (actually a reproduction painted by Ernesto). This is a comedy that is not particularly funny, that suffers from poor editing and weak character development. Beautiful cinematography and the set design faithfully recreate the Italy of the late 60s.


For 2008 Montreal World Film Festival Ratings, click HERE.
For 2009 Montreal World Film Festival Ratings, click HERE.


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